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Why I don’t hate Tom Brady, and how Bill Belichick never gets outcoached

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Some thoughts I had after watching Super Bowl LI.

During a time when the NFL has gotten exponentially complex, Bill Belichick has had nearly unfathomable success by mastering the simple facets of the game. Imagine that. He rarely if ever gets “outcoached” which really means “outmanaged.”

In reality, “situational football” is the furthest thing from rocket science in the game but seems to be forgotten or lost with the vast majority of coaches amid their detailed, convoluted game plans and frequently is the difference between a win and loss. Belichick’s New England Patriots simply do not beat themselves. They let you beat you.

The Atlanta Falcons inexplicably called just five running plays after taking a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI. Atlanta’s final drive — while up 8 points — was egregiously mishandled, with pass plays called on consecutive downs after a first down that put the ball on New England’s 22-yard-line with 4:40 to play.

It’s one thing to trust your strengths, which Kyle Shanahan clearly believed to be regular-season MVP Matt Ryan. It’s another to ignore the obviously correct game-managing decision, especially in the Super Bowl. We’ve seen eerily similar coaching mishaps from Patriots’ opponents for nearly two decades now.

From an Xs and Os standpoint, Belichick’s philosophy is based in elementary, fundamental football too. He fields a team of (small and quick) skill-position players who are hard to tackle while prioritizing tackling. During the regular season, the Patriots allowed the fewest yards after the catch per game in the NFL. The Falcons allowed the most. Through three quarters, the Falcons tackled surprisingly well. In the fourth quarter, they did not.

(No, New England hasn’t always been near the top of the YAC allowed statistic, but without a true trump-card player on defense this year, it was a collective tackling effort that catapulted a less talented group to the No. 1 scoring defense in football.)

In my adult life, I’ve never really been a “Tom Brady sux” or an “I hate Tom Brady” guy despite it being a sometimes humorous unifying aspect of people who follow the Buffalo Bills. For years now, I’ve assumed my thoughts were almost solely because of the desire to give smart, sound analysis that outweighs pushing a fandom I was born into which comes with a career writing about the NFL. But Super Bowl LI reminded me of another reason. Tom Brady is a legendary, awe-inspiring sports figure, the Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth of his time.

As many are saying this week, the “who’s the greatest QB in history?” debate is over. I’ve always been captivated by sports, and Brady has made football that much more captivating. He and the Patriots don’t have a squeaky clean history, but Brady and Belichick deserve the utmost respect for what they’ve accomplished over the past 16 years, and immense respect is what I felt more than anything else after watching them win Super Bowl LI.